Last Tuesday, right before the Thanksgiving holiday long weekend, I had the opportunity to booktalk to the three 11th grade English class sections at my school.
During each period I talked about 5 books, then asked the students to share their recent favorites with each other. We left the last 10-15 minutes of the period for students to browse and check out books.
I began each class by explaining that I chose books that are enjoyable and might also be impressive titles to mention in a college interview or essay. Given how busy these students are, this is a good time for them to begin preparations for the admissions process.
In addition to the longer booktalks, I also mentioned a few other titles (as you will see below), and put books on display all around the room. Keep in mind this is a college prep, all-girls school (every senior goes on to college).
The starred titles were checked out.
* Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan (3 copies checked out)
*The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey
*The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
*Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
*Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris
*Big Girl Small by Rachel DeWoskin
*Room by Emma Donoghue (3 copies checked out)
Dotter of her Father’s Eyes by Mary Talbot and Bryan Talbot
*The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
Among Others by Jo Walton
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
*Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
Where’d you Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
*The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie King
*Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington (2 copies checked out)
I also mentioned briefly:
*Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
The Yellow Birds Kevin Powers
Dare Me by Megan Abbott
*Son by Lois Lowry
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
Full Body Burden by Kristen Iversen
*The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
Books recommended to each other:
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani
*Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Love and Leftovers by Sarah Tregay
Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles
*Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: a new English version by Phillip Pullman (raved)
*The Magicians by Lev Grossman
*Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
*Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (2)
Love Story by Erich Segal
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy by Stieg Larsson
The Fault in our Stars by John Green
On the Road by Jack Kerouac (twice)
The Rum Diary by Hunter Thompson
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
*Beautiful Boy : a father’s journey through his son’s addiction by David Sheff
*The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
The Girls by Lori Lansens
*Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
anything by Sarah Dessen
Additional Books Checked Out:
His Magesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik
Tithe by Holly Black
Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (2)
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
The Color of Magic: a Discworld Novel by Terry Pratchett
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare
City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare
Sapphique by Catherine Fisher
Angel : a Maximum Ride novel by James Patterson
Nevermore: the final Maximum Ride adventure by James Patterson
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
Looking for Alaska by John Green
Every Day by David Levithan
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
The Big Crunch by Pete Hautman
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell
The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
There are many factors that affected which books were popular and which were not. I tend to blame my booktalk when a title doesn’t go. On the other hand, I thought my talk on Wild (by Cheryl Strayed) went perfectly, but no takers. (I still think this is a great choice for my population and look forward to giving it another go when I get a chance.)
Also, I rarely buy more than one copy of a book (due to limited shelf space). In the case of Brain on Fire, I had two ARC’s available to give away as well as the library’s hardcover copy, and I know from past experience that Room and The Night Circus are hits, so I did buy multiples of those.
I started my talk about The Flight of Gemma Hardy by asking how many had read Jane Eyre. I wasn’t sure if high school students still read that classic (it is not assigned at my school), but over half had read it, and there were many sighs around the room indicating that it is still much-loved.
I had just re-read Brain on Fire to write my AB4T review, so that was a particularly effective talk. The kids were with me every step of the way, and I could have checked out a few more had I had the copies. In fact, I think the interest in nonfiction was very strong, especially in the first class. I could have checked out more copies of Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Escape from Camp 14, Bossypants, and Beautiful Boy.
Dotter of her Father’s Eyes was a risk. Graphic novels are not very popular in my library, despite displays and booktalks, but I recently read this one and adored it. I couldn’t resist trying again. No dice.
It breaks my heart that I couldn’t “sell” Among Others. There are a few current seniors at my school who love it intensely, but they are among the most avid teen readers I know. On Tuesday, I could feel myself losing the group’s attention as I talked about this one. It may just be too strange in description to appeal in that context. Perhaps it is better as an individual recommendation. Have any of you had success booktalking this one?
The Casual Vacancy has been on display in my library since publication. One senior has read it. While unimpressed by the first half, she persevered. She came to me in tears as she finished it (during a free period) to tell me how much she loved it. I was happy to see it go out again.
I want to give special mention to Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: a new English version by Phillip Pullman. (We haven’t reviewed it yet here, but we plan to.) It is like catnip to the students in my school who love reading fairytales and mythology. Many of those same students love Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, and it has a great cover.
I would love to hear how any of these books are doing in your library, and others that are popular with your teens!
Finally, please click on the Booktalking tag below to see other iterations of this event. I have been lucky to do it for three years in a row now.